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Notable Virginia Women -  Katherine Harwood Waller Barrett (1858–1925) 


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Katherine Harwood Waller Barrett, soon after her marriage to Robert S. Barrett, an Episcopal minister, began caring for unmarried mothers and their children who were often treated as outcasts and had few opportunities to obtain medical care, occupational assistance, or good educations. Kate Waller Barrett earned a medical degree in 1892 while living in Georgia, and after she moved to northern Virginia (1896), she took part in founding the National Florence Crittenton Mission, the first philanthropic institution to be chartered by Congress, to care for unmarried mothers and their children.

First, as vice president and then as president until her death in 1925, Barrett directed the national network of affiliated Crittenton mission homes and wrote and traveled throughout the world to raise money and promote good child care and issues relating to women's health and employment. Barrett was an honorary vice president of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, a charter member of the Virginia League of Women Voters, and a member of the board of the College of William and Mary. She took an active role in Democratic Party politics in order to advance her work in behalf of women's issues. After her death, the governor of Virginia ordered the flag on the Capitol to be lowered to half- staff, the first time a woman had ever been so honored.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds and races, Janie Porter Barrett and Katherine Harwood Waller Barrett became nationally recognized leaders in the education of women, in health care for women and children, and in women's organizations. The Barretts and others like them forged alliances across class and racial lines to provide for the needs of society’s most vulnerable members. They laid the groundwork for later government programs that built on their achievements.

Mrs. Kate Waller Barrett, General Superintendent. Published in Fourteen Years’ Work among “Erring Girls”. Washington, D. C.: National Florence Crittenton Mission, ca. 1901. Bound volume. The Library of Virginia